Fri | Feb 28, 2020

Did Petrojam mislead Parliament, country? - Former GM says refinery submitted wrong salary in financial report; falsely claimed he resigned

Published:Tuesday | December 10, 2019 | 12:27 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter
The Petrojam oil refinery in Kingston.
The Petrojam oil refinery in Kingston.

Former Petrojam boss Howard Mollison has testified that the scandal-scarred state-owned oil refinery falsely indicated in a 2016 report to Parliament that his salary was more than $15 million and recounted how he was immediately dismissed after he questioned the discrepancy with members of the board of directors.

Further, Mollison has given sworn testimony that Petrojam acknowledged, in an email to him after his two-year contract was terminated in July 2016, that a media statement issued by the company claiming that he had resigned was incorrect.

The former Petrojam general manager was giving evidence before a three-member commission of the Industrial Dispute Tribunal (IDT) yesterday in a case he brought against the state-owned refinery for unfair dismissal.

He indicated that he was one year and five months into his fixed-term contract when he was handed a termination letter and wants the IDT to order Petrojam to pay him for the unexpired portion of his contract, as well as compensation for loss of his health benefits, vacation pay, and performance incentive.

He told the panel that Petrojam, in its 2015-2016 financial report to the House of Representatives, listed his salary as $15.3 million.

“Were you getting more than that?” asked president of the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU), Lambert Brown, who is representing Mollison.

“Less than that,” the former general manager replied, without disclosing the actual amount.

Mollison testified that during a board meeting on July 12, 2016, he raised “the issue of the differential in compensation as against what was approved by the ministry” and was asked to provide additional information.

His testimony was interrupted several times by Angela Robertson, the attorney representing Petrojam, who objected to the line of questioning, arguing that it was taking the commission outside of its remit.

“There is no basis for this line of questioning. The commission has no jurisdiction to take this information into account. You are a creature of statute and you can’t go outside the statute,” Robertson insisted.

The objection was, however, overruled by chairman of the commission, Charles Jones, who sought to make it clear that the three-member panel “will only be guided by the evidence”.

Invited to meeting

Mollison, when he resumed his testimony, said that two days after the board meeting, he received an email from then director, Perceval Bahado-Singh, thanking him for the information he had provided and requested a copy of his contract.

Six days later, on July 20, the former Petrojam boss said he was invited to a meeting with then Chairman William Martinez.

“What were you told was the purpose of the meeting?” asked Brown, as he led Mollison through his evidence.

“They said it was a meeting with the chairman of PCJ regarding the issue of compensation I raised at the last board meeting,” he replied.

“When you got to the meeting, what happened?” Brown pressed.

“The chairman [of PCJ Russell Hadeed] said I had raised these matters, they had been discussed, then handed me a letter,” Mollison said, recounting how he learnt his contract was being terminated.

“So they handed you that letter in a meeting they said was to discuss concerns about your compensation?” the UAWU president continued.

“Yes, sir,” Mollison responded.

He said that the letter indicated that the contract was being terminated with immediate effect to facilitate the return of Winston Watson to the position of general manager of the refinery.

Watson acknowledged, during cross-examination by Brown, that he took over as Petrojam general manager on July 20, 2016 although his secondment to its parent company, Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), was to end on August 31.

“The document says I can return to Petrojam at any time. I can’t say if it’s [his return to Petrojam] premature,” he explained.

Watson, however, conceded that 11 weeks later, he was out as general manager, replaced by Floyd Grindley. Watson returned to PCJ.

Mollison testified that he learnt of his “resignation” through the media and queried it in a letter to Petrojam.

According to him, Martinez responded in an email on August 19, 2016, saying, “While you did not resign, your contract was terminated to facilitate the return of Winston Watson.”

Mollison is to be cross-examined when the hearing continues today.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com